In the late seventies and early eighties there was an explosion of brilliant and inventive electronic music that has justly taken its place in the pop/rock firmament, but for every celebrated or critically acclaimed artist there have been others that have remained unfairly in the margins. One such band is New Musik, who combined commerciality with experimentation across three excellent albums between 1980 and 1982. All three are gathered together for the first time with a disc of bonus material in From A To B – The Sony Years.
Evolving from late seventies outfit End Of The World, New Musik coalesced into a four piece line up of Tony Hibbert (bass), Phil Towner (drums), Clive Gates (keyboards) and songwriter/producer Tony Mansfield on guitar and vocals. For those unfamiliar with New Musik, the band’s debut album From A To B is unquestionably the place to start. Opening track ‘Straight Lines’ was the band’s first single. It is a bright, sleek, angular pop song and became a minor hit, but it was the group’s next single, the prescient ‘Living By Numbers’, that became their biggest success. The song exemplifies many of the strengths of their debut album: quality song writing, inventive production and a pleasing juxtaposition of electronic sounds and organic instrumentation that lends a warmth to the band’s sound.
From A To B is an album that frequently delights. Ecological themes are tackled in ‘Dead Fish (Don’t Swim Home)’, ‘Science’ is pleasingly quirky, the sweeping ‘On Islands’ belies prog rock influences, whilst ‘This World Of Water’ wraps its bleak lyrics and surreal vocal effects around an upbeat melody to good effect. The fourth single from the album, ‘Sanctuary’ remains an absolute gem of a song and it should have been a huge hit in any just world.
The band’s second album, Anywhere, is oblique, almost wilfully so. Whilst New Romantic acts were storming up the charts, New Musik were writing songs with titles such as ‘Design’, ‘Churches’, ‘Division’ and ‘Traps’, the dispassionate subject matter almost a defiant and opaque reaction to the pop music of the time. Unlike its predecessor, which resulted from a number of separate sessions, Anywhere was conceived as a whole and, for all its eccentricities, it remains an oddly beautiful record. Mansfield’s guitars lend a sweetness to the poignant ‘This World of Walter’, ‘They All Run After The Carving Knife’ is strangely hypnotic, ‘Areas’ is a spacious soundscape to lose yourself in whilst the lead single ‘Luxury’ has an unhurried, beguiling charm. Anywhere is an underrated album and Mansfield’s personal favourite. It’s tempting to consider how the group may have developed from here, or how they might be perceived now, had the album been viewed in a kinder fashion.
By the time of their third album, Towner and Hibbert had departed, and Cliff Venner brought in on drums and percussion. The band’s record label (GTO) was disintegrating, and New Musik found themselves owned by CBS who, as Mansfield observed, were arguably more focussed on promoting their own major acts, than a small subsidiary label’s leftovers. Unfettered by any commercial expectations, the band produced the truly weird Warp, a brittle, minimalist, experimental album full of synthesized drums, triggered beats and vocals. Warp is an acquired taste, but it’s an album I love to this day, whether that’s the Nile Rodgers style guitar on ‘Here Comes The People’, the triggered vocals on ‘A Train On Twisted Tracks’ or underappreciated Mansfield songs such as ‘Hunting’ or ‘All You Need Is Love’ lurking among all the strangeness. ‘The Planet Doesn’t Mind’ – an attack on apathy towards environmental issues – remains relevant today, whilst the title track is as bizarre an end to an album as you could wish for, as the sound distorts, breaks up and ‘warps’, before stopping abruptly.
After New Musik Tony Mansfield continued a career in production, working with Mari Wilson, producing large swathes of A-ha’s Hunting High And Low album and collaborating with Captain Sensible, whose ‘Glad Its All Over’, and ‘There Are More Snakes Than Ladders’, co-written by Mansfield, bore a distinct resemblance to his former band.
In the pantheon of electronic artists New Musik are largely unappreciated, but to me their discrete body of work stands shoulder to shoulder with any of their peers. This excellent 4CD anthology of their work suggests it is high time for a reappraisal.
Review by David Waterfield.
From A to B: The Sony Years is released via Cherry Red Records on 24th March 2023.
Disc One: From A To B
1. Straight Lines
3. A Map Of You
5. On Islands
6. This World Of Water
7. Living By Numbers
8. Dead Fish (Don’t Swim Home)
10. The Safe Side
Disc Two: Anywhere
1. They All Run After The Carving Knife
4. This World Of Walter
6. While You Wait
7. Changing Minds
12. Back To Room One
Disc Three: Warp
1. Here Comes The People
2.Going Round Again
3. A Train On Twisted Tracks
4. I Repeat
5. All You Need Is Love
6. All You Need Is Love
7. Kingdoms For Horses
9. The New Evolutionist (Example A)
10. Green And Red (Respectively)
11. The Planet Doesn’t Mind
Disc Four: B Sides/Edits/Extended Versions
1. Straight Lines (Single Edit)
2 While You Wait (Single Edit)
3. The Planet Doesn’t Mind (Single Edit)
4. Sad Films
5. Missing Persons/Tell Me Something New
6. She’s A Magazine
7. Chik Musik
8. Magazine Musik
9. Twelfth House
10. From The Village
12. The Office
13. 24 Hours From Culture (Part 2)
14. While You Wait (Extended Version)
15. Here Comes The People (Remix)